November 2016
  • Day16

    Kuala Lumpur again

    November 19, 2016 in Malaysia ⋅ ⛅ 31 °C

    It’s a short flight to Kuala Lumpur. Forty minutes over Cambodia, forty minutes over the sea and forty minutes over Peninsular Malaysia. Our captain plays tour guide. He clearly loves his job and it passes the time for us. 

    We’re both quite tired and have both picked up stomach bugs in Kampong Chhnang. So we have a lazy afternoon in our room then catch a movie.

    We spend two days relaxing.
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  • Day14

    A night in Phnom Penh

    November 17, 2016 in Cambodia ⋅ ⛅ 29 °C

    We drop our bags at Feliz Hostel and Cafe. We have returned because we like it here. A short tuk tuk ride takes us to the Russian Market just before closing to buy a few items. A second hammock so I can take a friend camping. Some more paintings. Two cross stitches for me to make because they are one tenth the price at home and I enjoy it as a form of meditation. We haggle hard now. The prices start far too high. The goal is to get close to half the asking price or walk away. We manage to spend a few dollars.

    We eat dinner at the Chinese restaurant where they make fresh noodles. Paul loves the beans there and me the noodles. We’ve remembered where it is. A massage follows. It’s the best massage I think I’ve ever had. $20 for a 90 minutes full body oil massage followed by $8 for a 60 minute foot reflexology. It’s our last chance at a cheap massage for a while.
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  • Day14

    Kampong Chhnang to Phnom Penh

    November 17, 2016 in Cambodia ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    Sitting behind the driver is no place for the feint of heart. So it’s a good thing that Paul and I long ago relinquished our Western sensibilities and accepted the realities of travel. We rattle and bounce down a road built for lighter loads and slower speeds. Overtaking means hurtling headlong into oncoming traffic at breakneck speed. It’s just now it’s done here. As a passenger you just hold on an watch the world approach.

    Arriving in Phnom Penh is a shock to the senses. It’s loud, dirty, busy and obnoxious after our ten days in quieter towns. I can only imagine what a shock it would be to young men and women who have left a farming community in search of big city fortune. Dust fills the air. Horns blast. Rubbish litters the ground. Advertising signs visually holler. It’s no better or worse than other global capitals. It’s just that here the contrast between the rest of the country and its capital city is so stark.
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  • Day13

    Tonle Sap River

    November 16, 2016 in Cambodia ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    Our skipper motors the boat upriver for half an hour against the wind and tide. The engine splutters away behind us as we pass a workshop building composite plastic river boats, houses on stilts and mechanic workshops lining the banks of Tonle Sap, which is no longer a lake; it’s now a river.

    Floating villages come into view and the engine is cut. Poverty surrounds us at every turn. Tin shacks, huts made of bamboo and leaves, children who should be in school and hardworking people. That’s what comprises the floating villages. Like all communities some people have done better than others. But modern floating houses are the exception not the rule.

    That said, smiles abound. Children wave and call “hello”. It’s the only English word they know (except “one dollar”). Young men wearing nothing but underwear seem to be having a swimming race, diving from one boat and stroking quickly towards another. A boy rows from one house to another down a watery “street”. It’s not idealic but humans are resilient and this is home to them.
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  • Day12

    Kampong Chhnang

    November 15, 2016 in Cambodia ⋅ ⛅ 29 °C

    At first Kampong Chhnang doesn’t seem like much. It’s dusty and quiet. We walk past a prison on our way to our guesthouse. Hmm. But the guesthouse is lovely with friendly staff. Our room set in a garden with a bench out the front and cold aircon inside.

    Right on dusk we head out to explore the town and find some food. The hour out of the heat has given us a second wind (the bus had aircon but it was old and ineffective).

    We eat diner at a Chinese restaurant where two meals and drinks cost us $US5.50 (everything is cheaper once you leave Phnom Penh and Siem Riep). We are charged in Cambodian Riel for the first time in this trip and the staff don’t look happy to be handed dollars (the unofficial official currency of Cambodia). We haven’t needed Riel until now so have given our small money as donations at temples along the way. It’s okay though because we will collect a few dollars worth here in town.

    We sit in a big park eating coconut cake for desert watching people. There’s teenagers kicking a small soccer ball around. A group of men play hackey sack. Some children let off fire crackers. Groups of young people hang out on the grass talking or playing guitar. Children run around. Families eat picnic dinners on colourful straw mats. And we are asked whether we can be in peoples’ photos (or they just snap a shot if they think we’re not looking).

    What we don’t know yet is that we’ve arrived in the middle of a big festival. On our way home we come across it and stop off.  We will later learn it’s a Cambodia-Thailand friendship festival. It lasts a full week. We wander the stalls.  play a side show game (and lose). We try a sausage that ends up being randomly filled with some sort of mince and rice noodle mix that tastes awesome.And we watch the concert. People walk past us gawking as though we are aliens. Street urchins beg for money (no we do not cave in even when they stand batting their eyes at us for half an hour).
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  • Day12

    Battambang to Kampong Chhnang

    November 15, 2016 in Cambodia ⋅ ⛅ 29 °C

    We sit at the bus station watching the goings on. Our bus is scheduled for 9:30am but it’s already 11am. We’ve watched as the bus to Siem Riep was loaded equally with rice and passengers. Yes, you read that correctly, the bus was loaded with heavy bags of rice. Probably a few hundred kilos of the stuff.

    Almost an hour later our single backpack is loaded into the hold of the bus bound for Phnom Penh (Kampong Chhnang is on the same bus route). Then it is unloaded to make way for our bus’s load of rice. There’s so much that some passengers have to take their luggage on board (we are lucky that our backpack fit underneath). Bags of rice are even loaded into the door well at the front of the bus. It makes a good seat for the passengers whose seats have been taken up by the piles of mattresses wrapped in plastic being transported in the back few rows of the bus.

    It’s midday when we pull out of the bus station. We pass some time making up stories to go with the karaoke videos playing at the front of the bus. There’s the usual woman slapping man scene all too common in Cambodian karaoke, the love lorn man, the parents whose son is going off to work in the city, and the dutiful son who returns home with cash earned on a construction site. Hours pass as the rural landscape slips by. My reading of a novel seems to fascinate the woman in front of us who keeps looking and giggling nervously. Her children stare wide-eyed at us.
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  • Day11

    Small Battambang Circuit

    November 14, 2016 in Cambodia ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    We travel along the river following small roads. This is how the other half lives and it’s important to realise that while we haggle over every dollar many people living here would love to just earn even a dollar for their labours. Today we will learn more about how hard the Khmer people have to work just to earn their meagre wages.

    The Well of Shadows is the place where over 10,008 Khmer people were killed during the Pol Pot regime. The memorial tells the story of those unimaginable years. A period of history that many Khmer people today still remember. I am struck by the kindness of Khmer people despite the trauma of war and torture. They could have chosen to be angry and bitter like some other cultural groups who have suffered but they haven’t. Rather, this is a peaceful country where people are friendly and helpful.

    We stop at a small shed. A machine that could have come out of the ark is pulverising rice and then smoothing it. This is the first stage in making rice noodles. The second is totake the pulverised and moistened rice flour and pushing it through a big metal noodle maker and boiling the noodles. Wood is expensive so rice husks are burned to boil the water. It’s labour intensive, hot and dirty work.

    Our next stop is a guava vendor. She sits on a wooden platform with her fruit piled neatly in front of her. The guava is tasty so I buy a kilo. It’s all grown locally along this road, harvested and sold right here. This is hand to mouth living without any guarantee of income. I feel grateful to have been born in the West. The lottery of birth is something that travel makes clear.

    The rice wine making shed is next but, not being drinkers, we don’t stay to taste it. The fermentation process takes place in buckets that serve as vats. Fruit, snake, scorpion and spices make up the brew that is said to make men very powerful (if you know what I mean).

    Not much farther along is a row of rice paper shops. I made a video because the process is so simple yet effective. These ladies make 3,000 rice paper sheets every day during the dry season. During the wet work has to stop because there’s no sun to dry the papers. I buy some fresh spring rolls, which taste good.

    I wonder what it would feel like to have tourists observing your work on a daily basis. To know people who earn more in a day than you might in a year are photographing you out of curiosity. Is it ethical or responsible? Does our purchase of food and drink at their store justify our gawking? Without us this family might remain in greater poverty but our money might make it possible for families to make headway. I know what I’d do for my family if it came to it. I’d let tourists take photos if it were the difference between a subsistence future or having food in our bellies.

    Wat Ek Phnom suddenly appears before our tuk tuk. The giant Buddha is impossible to ignore. It dominates the landscape. Behind it lie the 11th Century ruins of Wat Ek Phnom. There’s no steps to climb – just a rocky ruin to scramble over.

    An old lady and a young man’s without use of his legs ply their trade here. They try to encourage tourists to follow them then ask for 1,000 riel ($US0.25). The man crawls. The lady hobbles. For all our complaints about the social security system in Australia, at least this isn’t the lot of our elderly and disabled populations. At home this man would have a lightweight wheelchair, a disability pension, access to education and workplace training, and the protection of anti-discrimination legislation that requires potential employers to make reasonable adjustments to allow him access to employment and workplaces. Our system is not perfect but at least we have something in place.
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  • Day10

    Killing Caves

    November 13, 2016 in Cambodia ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    We reach the base of Mt Sampeu. Tony cannot take us further so we transfer to a jeep to drive us up the steep roads to the Killing Cave and Sampeu Temple. We bounce around the benches in the open back of the jeep as he revs his way up the ramshackle road.

    The Killing Cave is sobering. This is a place where the Khmer Rouge tortured thousands and threw their dead bodies into the cave. Today there’s a reclining golden Buddha in the cave along with a memorial. Outside there’s more golden Buddhas. I feel a little overwhelmed at the thought of what humans do to other humans. And, again, I feel sadness that this still happens in parts of the world today.

    The second peak of the mountain houses a beautiful golden temple. Perched on the edge of a cliff it’s a typically Buddhist place where Mother Nature is powerfully apparent. We walk into a cave and into a cave within the cave to see some shrines. It’s so peaceful and I can’t help but ponder this fact of Buddhist places. They are places to which I am strongly drawn and in which I feel quietly contemplative. I even want to walk up the steps to reach them because it feels somehow important. Something for me to ponder, I guess.
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